DALLAS — The Dallas police and fire associations have a new voice in their fight for better pay for police and firefighters.
Katrina Ahrens, the wife of fallen Dallas Police Sr. Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, recorded a new 60-second spot that begins airing Wednesday. The spot is paid for by all of the police and fire associations.
“Lorne always said he would proudly take a bullet to save a citizen,” she says in the spot. “On July 7, that’s exactly what he did. My brave husband was killed by the downtown sniper. Our two children were devastated.”
Her husband was one of five police officers killed in the attack.
Katrina Ahrens is a Dallas police sex assaults detective with 17 years on the force. She told News 8 that she recorded the spot because she believes it’s what her husband would have wanted.
“The council members just don’t respect us as people,” she said in an interview. "And that’s exactly what he felt like. I think they think that anybody can do this job is what I feel that they think. I think that anything is further from the truth.”
Dallas Police Association President Ron Pinkston called Ahrens’ decision to record the spot a courageous act.
“She’s stepped forward and wanted to help,” he says. “Our heart still goes out to her for her loss and it’s amazing that she would step up for other officers like this.”
The police and fire associations are in unified opposition to City Manager’s A.C. Gonzalez’s pay plan.
Under his plan, veteran officers and firefighters, who have topped out in the city’s pay structure, won’t be eligible for pay increases. Gonzalez is proposing a “double-step” increase for the almost 70 percent of officers and firefighters who haven’t topped out. City staffers say it would cost about $8.9 million.
The city manager also proposes to give patrol officers about $200 a month at a cost of about $1.8 million. Only those in patrol at the rank of “officer” would be eligible, city officials say.
The radio spot is the latest effort of police and fire associations to win support for their proposal. They want the council to approve giving raises to police and firefighters of five percent each year for three years, in addition to any step increases that they are eligible to receive.
City officials say what the associations want is too expensive when there are so many other competing demands. Pinkston says that Gonzalez is inflating the numbers by not taking into account attrition.
“This is somebody making $400,000 a year saying a veteran officer doesn’t deserve a raise,” Pinkston said. “He manipulates the numbers.”
News 8 was there as Katrina Ahrens recorded the radio spot.
A consultant working for the Dallas Police Association helped her find just the right tone -- conversational in some spots, solemn in other portions and indigent at points. It’s the first time she’d ever recorded a radio spot.
The spot takes direct aim at City Council Member Lee Kleinman.
“When the TV cameras were around, Councilman Lee Kleinman talked of backing first responders. But days after our officers ran toward gunfire, he ran away from his promise,” the ad says. “Our police and fire are paid about 20 percent less than other cities. So they work extra jobs to support their families. And they miss Little League and dance recitals. But when Councilman Kleinman was asked to help raise their pay, he said no.”
The radio spot accuses Kleiman of turning his back of “those who protect us.”
Kleinman told News 8 that nothing could be further from the truth. He says he’s backing the city manager’s pay proposal.
“I feel for her loss,” Kleinman told News 8. “It’s unfortunate that she’s being dragged into a labor dispute in her time of grieving. … I have always supported public safety.”
He says the city has to make difficult budget decisions, including dealing with the out-of-control dog problem, increasing homelessness and confronting head-on the failing police and fire pension system. The city projects it will put an additional $2.9 million into the police and fire pension system this fiscal year to help keep it afloat.
“I know a lot of folks are concerned that the current pay proposal doesn’t include everybody at the very top levels, but for those guys we’re trying to salvage a system so they even have a pension and honestly it’s not looking very promising,” said Kleinman, who served on the board for about three years.
Kleinman has been engaged in a very public battle with police and fire associations and they are clearly trying to make him pay a political price. The associations accused him of kicking them out of his office earlier this month, an allegation that Kleinman vehemently denies.
The DPA pulled its endorsement of Kleinman – something the association says it has never done.
The spot concludes with a call to action.
“First responders need your support to ensure to her council members do the right thing,” it says. “It’s time to pay our police and firefighters a fair and competitive salary.”
Katrina Ahrens says she’s heard the empty promises from city leaders before and it’s time to take a stand.
She blames poor pay as one of the chief reasons for officers fleeing to other departments.
“Back whenever our pay steps were frozen, it was told to us that this was probably a one-time thing,” she says. “You make this sacrifice for the city now and it’s going to come out better for you in the end and that’s what we did. We sacrificed a lot as a department, as individuals, as families for those pay cuts, those furlough days and our insurance goes up every year.”
As they played back the final product, the pain and the loss were evident on her face. Hearing the words “my brave husband” in her own voice clearly struck a nerve.
Katrina Ahrens is braving on for her husband and all Dallas police officers. She says her husband would have been proud she’s taking a stand.
“Oh, Lorne he would have thought it was good,” she said. “Of course, he would have been on camera in a minute if somebody had asked him.”